Opening up fresh divisions at the heart of the Conservative Government, the Home Secretary said she would not want the Foreign Secretary managing the negotiations – just one week before Theresa May’s major Brexit speech in Florence.
It comes after Mr Johnson wrote a 4,000 word article for The Daily Telegraph, reaffirming his commitment to the widely discredited claim that leaving the bloc will save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS.
The article – setting out a significant divergence from the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy – was immediately seized upon as evidence of a forthcoming leadership bid, or a prelude to a resignation at the Conservative party conference in two weeks’ time.
While Ms Rudd told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that she did not believe the intervention from her colleague was a leadership bid, she said she had been “too busy” dealing with the Parsons Green bomb attack to read the article.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appeared to be referring to the Foreign Secretary when she posted on Twitter: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”
Asked whether she agreed with the comment, Ms Rudd replied: “I think she has a point, yes. I had a very busy weekend dealing with what could have been a terrible attack on our public transport.”
When pressed on a comment made during last year’s EU referendum that Mr Johnson was “not a man you would like to drive you home at the end of the evening,” Ms Rudd replied: “What I meant by that is I don’t want him managing the Brexit process.
“What we’ve got is Theresa May managing that process – and I’m going to make sure, as far as I’m concerned and the rest of the Cabinet is concerned, we help her do that.
“You could call it backseat driving, absolutely. But I’m very clear that the Cabinet and the Government supports Theresa May.
But the Home Secretary played down speculation that Mr Johnson was about to launch a challenge to Ms May’s authority, adding: “I think the Government is united behind the Prime Minister. I think that Boris has had his say and he shows that incredible enthusiasm and energy that he is famous for, but he’s also said he’s supporting the Prime Minister on Friday.
“I have the great good fortune to work with Boris – I know what an irrepressible enthusiast he is about Brexit, and what he’s done is set it out there. I think it’s absolutely fine; I would expect nothing less from Boris.”
Will Tanner, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, tweeted on Friday that it was “astonishing” that Mr Johnson thought “this self-serving posturing, disloyal at best of times, would reflect well in the hours after a terror attack”.
“The real PM just raised the threat level,” he said. “Meanwhile guy who wants to replace her issues a prelude to resignation, to save face over £350m. Hmm.”
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